Fixing the health system one story at a time

The latest Yarn Up was held last Thursday, enabling members of Narrandera’s Indigenous community to share their stories of the health system.

The Yarn Up is a co-operation between Charles Sturt University and the Murrumbidgee Local Health District. Their aim is to gather stories from the Indigenous community to discover problems with the way people experience the health system and try to change the way the health system operates in response.

“At the moment we’re just trying to build relationships, get the community comfortable about what’s possible, learn what their experience has been, and what they want to see changed,” said Dr David Ritchie, lecturer in Health Services Management at CSU.

Community consultation is the main focus of the Yarn Up, with Dr Ritchie emphasising that involving the community with their own healthcare is “how it should be anyway.”

“For me it’s really important that we start with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but this approach works in any group. We provide shop-front services and expect people to come. Maybe we need to ask why people aren’t having the same sort of access as the rest of the population.”

Dr Ritchie believes that the approach of the masters program could be applied for many different groups that under-utilise health services, such as new migrants to Australia or people who speak English as a second language.

“Normally when you go and see a doctor or whatever, they say ‘what’s the matter with you?’ We want to change that to ask the question ‘what matters to you?’ How can we do what we do better by meeting your expectations, rather than trying to get you to do what we want you to?”

A barbeque followed by a seminar was in order for the day, which involved a video presentation from the three masters students who were facilitating the program.

The messages from the students emphasised confidentiality when collecting stories.

“One of the issues is confidentiality. So Hank’s the only person who knows who he’s speaking to. The students will get the transcripts, the recordings of the interviews that have then been transcribed.”

The students, who come from Melbourne, Wagga and Canada respectively, also took the time to introduce themselves on camera.

All of the masters students are already working as health professionals, whether they are doctors, nurses, physiotherapists or paramedics. All of them are looking to move into management roles,
which require a more flexible line of thinking.

“There are lots of things that can be fixed with anybody’s health. Not everybody wants it. They want to be able to lead their own lives. So again, the question that is asked is really important. What’s important to you? How can we help you achieve what it is that you want to achieve?

“We can prescribe medications for a whole bunch of things. But if you change your lifestyle or your diet, it’s better. What do you want to do? Do you want to take pills, or do you want to choose what you will and won’t eat?

“We’re not going to get zero risk. There are all things that we do that we know probably aren’t the best. I mean, even health professionals smoke and drink.

“So how can you expect others to do what you can’t do yourself? It’s being realistic about it,” Dr Ritchie said.

The idea of the Yarn Up is not to be all doom and gloom about the state of health services. Dr Ritchie said the students are trying to find what works in the health system as well.

“We’re trying to grow what’s positive. Grow what you’re comfortable with.”

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